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Get off your high horse / do some actual sanctions / Iraq actually is relevant

The Russian state tried to kill a former spy in a pizza restaurant in Salisbury with banned chemical weapons, and everyone's outraged. There's the first layer of outrage, that this could possibly happen on British soil; the second layer that the Russian state is responding in such a glib and unserious way; the third layer, that Jeremy Corbyn and Seumas Milne are being very coy about whether to join in condemning Russia over this. Probably by the time you read this there will be several new layers. It's very tiring.

Maybe that is glib, but the character of the debate about this makes me feel like being glib. You would not guess from the how dare they tone that's been widely adopted that it is not actually uncommon for governments to conduct extraterritorial killings in order to protect what they see as their national security. Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, was killed in a US airstrike in Yemen, a country with which the US was not at war. Jihadi John, a British citizen, was killed by British and American drones in Syria.

These things are not equivalent. There are plenty of objections to the legal procedures used to legitimate these killings, but broadly they were justifiable in a way that the attack on Sergei Skripal clearly was not. But the comparison makes clear that Russia's actions are reprehensible here because Russia is bad and pursuing bad geopolitical outcomes, not because they violate some widely-obeyed norms about the global use of force. The norms are broken all the time. Western powers lost the ability to meaningfully claim the moral high ground about this in, yes, approximately 2003. (This isn't an exaggeration: a good friend of mine who did some research on the conflict in eastern Ukraine found lots of people in the Russian sphere explicitly pointing to Iraq as inspiration for the strategy of doing something that's clearly in clear violation of international law and then just saying it isn't.)

In one group chat I'm in somebody said they were shocked this could happen in Britain, "as a patriot", and that gets to the heart of it. There's nothing really shocking about this happening, since it happens all the time in countries which don't appear to be strong or decisive enough to push back when it happens. The shock is that Russia now seems to view the UK as such a country. That is bad, but it's no use getting in high dudgeon about the disrespectful, norm-violating nature of it. You have to actually do things that hurt them, and as this post nicely points out, there is a government that has generally been quite reluctant to take those steps.

What about Jeremy Corbyn's reaction to the attack? As far as I can tell it's indefensible on the merits of the situation. But it's not nearly as unhinged or inexplicable as people seem to think. The headline thing coming in for criticism is Seumas Milne mentioning the intelligence services' 'bad record with identifying chemical weapons', a reference to the run-up to the Iraq War.

I don't have any interest in defending Milne's take on Russia and the world, but the fact is that if you're on the anti-war left the parallels to Iraq make a lot of sense. The thing to remember is that the war in Iraq did not come out of nowhere, even after 2001. As this great 2016 piece from Max Fisher highlights, it came from a decade long campaign, led by public figures whose foreign policy approach boiled down to never seeing a war they didn't want to fight, of depicting Iraq as a prime geopolitical enemy and gradually increasing Western hostility towards it.

It is not hard to see why Jeremy Corbyn might see some analogy to the current Western relationship with Russia. While there is clearly a dose of Milne's weird Russophilia in the specifics, the broad stance - that communication and diplomacy should stay open, and issues should be dealt with through multilateral processes rather than tit-for-tat escalating aggression - makes perfect sense, if you detect in drum-banging about Russia a hint of that long path to the invasion of Iraq.

I don't think that's, all things considered, the right read of or reaction to the situation. But it's not a position that needs to be explained by postulating that Corbyn has secret authoritarian sympathies; given the recent political history of the anti-war movement, it's pretty understandable.